Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A Novel Idea for Novel Writers

People who are living with blindness and vision impairments met during the month of October's Writers Circle.  This meeting is archived at the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired website (www.hadley.edu).  Several participants were concerned about the inaccessibility of the national novel writing competition that is held during the month of November.  Writers tried to log into the contest website and found that some features such as the word count calculator were not available to them.  A word count of 50,000 is required for submitted manuscripts.  A man who contacted the website administrators with his complaint was told that work is being done to have the website screen-reader friendly by the opening of the contest on November 1.

Hadley learning experts praised and encouraged self-advocacy.  Since screen-readers have existed and been used for more than 30 years by people who live with a variety of disabilities, self-advocacy seems like reinventing the wheel and an exercise in redundant futility.  After having the pleasure of working with fully sighted librarians who assisted me on both a PC and a MAC as we attempted to update my WordPress website, I learned that even sighted, competent computer users have problems getting software to behave while using the most up-to-date web browsers, software, and screen-readers or voice-over.  I am tired of self-advocacy and wonder why organizations for the blind and visually impaired are not taking a good look at the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
If class action lawsuits seem too harsh but were necessary for other minorities who faced blatant discrimination, here is a more novel approach:  Send website administrators the following link to a seven page article that tells programmers how to write code that is accessible.
 
A Short Guide to Screen Reader Friendly Code - Ben Robertson
https://benrobertson.io › accessibility › screen-reader-friendly-code-guide
If this information is not already available in the first chapter of any textbook or online coursepack used to teach classes in computer programming and code writing, now is the time to include it.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Buyer Beware: One Size does not Fit All, and Some Sizes are Too Small.

I've read enough books and listened to enough rants by Dave Ramsey to know that I must not sit on my assumptions; therefore, after publishing the last post, I called the technical support services at Freedom Scientific, the makers of JAWS (Job Access with Speech) screen-reading software.  I started using this software in the late 1980s when it was invented as I was taught to do by the Michigan services for the blind and visually impaired.  This product that uses key commands instead of a mouse is so easy to use that I have learned very few commands, only the ones I need to do my work as a writer and teacher of writing.  In other words, I don't use my computer for much more than I used my typewriter going back to the days when my vision was much better and I even worked as an executive secretary while earning my way through college as an undergraduate.

I Learned some very impoertant things from the Freedom Scientific technician.  While I never needed to use magnification functions on a computer, the laptop that I was encouraged to buy after I injured my hand that weighs around three pounds and has a 14 inch monitor screen would be neither helpful nor efficient for me to use with a mouse--even one with a larger pointer.  Low vision specialists recommend 40 inch monitors for their patients who still have good eye and hand coordination.  Some of the problems I am having with Windows 10 are caused by the hypersensitive touch-screen and equally sensitive mouse pad.  These will need to be modified as so many sighted computer users have already learned.  Many people who live with low vision cannot use a mouse or magnification because the glare from the monitor causes eye strain and sometimes headaches.  Some people with or without cataracts and other eye conditions are starting to wear sunglasses or glare-reducing glasses while working at their keyboards.

 There are ten businesses that offer free screen readers online.  Windows computers now have their own screen readers.  I am sorry to report that the new Windows and Office products are not working with JAWS key commands.  For example, on a Windows 7 computer the Alt and Tab keys allowed a person to toggle from one file or function to another.  Now Alt plus Tab bring up the same box as the JAWS key where the JAWS Wizard and Help options are located.  Just as I've had to learn new and more steps for extracting a zipped book file, I will need to find the Microsoft commands that allow toggling.  When I tried to learn how to use Dragon to dictate rather than type my documents, I learned that JAWS does not work with Dragon, and Dragon has no way for a sight impaired user to set up the software.  A company in the UK invented J-Say, a program that connects JAWS and Dragon; however, the user ends up listening to the Dragon commands with one ear that must be ignored and J-Say commands that must be followed through the ear that has a head phone.  Because my hand healed after its injury, I did not have to use J-Say, but I still need sighted help to set up Dragon if I decide to use it.  The creative writer in me would prefer a really good program that could convert my handwriting on a screen into text documents.  These do exist, but no one is recommending them.

It is frustrating and hard to understand why everything from hardware to software cannot be standardized as the typewriter keyboard was.  Laptop and external keyboards cannot be counted on to have their number pad, function keys, and switches in the same places if they have them at all.  I listened to a college lecture series on DVD about World Education.  An experiment was done to prove that if a computer was left out in the open with no instructions, young people and adults would come along who could figure out how it worked and start using it.  As a person with low vision, I would have turned the voice off on my computer because its switch is where the On/Off switch "should" be.  The first question I ask a salesperson who is showing me a computer or phone is, "How do you turn it on?"  I am tired of products that boast about having voice-over features only to learn that voice-over must be turned off to change the settings.  The people who live with blindness and low vision who say nothing but good things about these devices can be counted on to have a spouse, child, parent, or coworker at the end of their elbow.  I have had over 55 years of experience using keyboards.  A volunteer who works with me for several hours per week has had even more experience and is a retired special education teacher.  We have over 100 years of combined experience solving problems inside and outside the classroom environment, and WE cannot figure out what Windows 10 is doing much of the time.  Even when we go to Google and ask politely how to do what we cannot do, the computer is not following the online instructions.  How frustrated am I?  I am looking into products that have a reputation for working well such as my old favorite, Word Perfect and the MACs that so many happy computer users say they are using.  As I went around looking for help, I learned that most people who work with the public as librarians or library clerks want to be helpful but are as clueless as I am about Windows 10 and as disgusted as I am that online applications for job seekers, surveys, and websites are not 100% accessible.  The most challenging parts of an online job application are the boxes that require dates or phone numbers.

Screen reading software has been around since 1987.  Freedom Scientific set the standards and is eager to work with companies and individuals who want to learn a few simple rules for labeling links, boxes, and whatever sighted people can read on a screen.  The first word, that needs to be taught in technical communications and English as a second language classes for computer engineers and scientists needs to be "inclusion."

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Pride Goeth before a Crash

In the previous post, I said I would be focusing on my writing, discontinuing this blog, and using my website, www.susanbourrie.com, to provide updated information.  That information was shared just before my laptop crashed and I was forced to finally change from Windows 7 to Windows 10.  Many of the tasks I could perform with Windows 7 and JAWS screen-reading software are impossible now or require more steps than in the past.  Even downloading books from BARD and Learning Ally are now so discouraging that I no longer even look at the recently added books and magazines.  Windows 10 with Office is so difficult that I am in danger of losing my interest in both reading and writing.  We are talking about serious melt-down here.  Where it would usually take me a week to compose, edit, and format a post, I am not even going to try to set fonts, line spacing, and spell check right now because going near the ribbon usually does something horrible such as adding a new place for files to disappear to.  On a very courageous day, I found that place.  At least I am able to get some help from sighted friends and librarians while I learn a lot of new technology.  My website, however, is not being renewed because WordPress has never been easy for either me or anyone who is sighted and computer literate to use.  When I have information to share, it will be posted here.  And I do have wonderful news.  The National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped announced yesterday that it is changing its name to the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled.  Like the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Learning Ally, the NLS recognizes as I pointed out in my post in January 2015, "The Name Game," that what is in a name makes a very big difference for people who need services.  These new names are much more welcoming to people who live with low vision or who are newly diagnosed with potentially blinding eye diseases.  Great Job fellow teachers, librarians, and advocates!!!  You are making loving what is left while living with low vision so much nicer for so many more people.  Now, could you please talk to Microsoft before I stop buying their products and just hire a secretary?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Resetting my Life

 My cell phone has a reset button.  I use it when an overload from the demands of other carriers or conflicting functions make its work ineffective.  How easy it would be if our lives had reset buttons.  Even without such a luxury, I have decided to reset my life after 50 years of living with the diagnosis of glaucoma that was 22 years too late.  Resetting my life includes concluding Loving what is Left while Living with Low Vision.

 As this blog’s title demonstrates, I have lived rather than merely coped with the vision loss from the glaucoma and the cataracts that appeared several decades later.  My life up to this point has revolved and evolved around the condition of my eyes.  It determined what I could and could not do, where I could and could not live, and where I would or would not be able to work.  Now I am celebrating my 50th anniversary by returning to the person I was before I started to be defined by my medical conditions.

 The tipping point that helped me find my reset button is the Writers’ Circle that was started by the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired in May.  This group meets monthly via computer or phone access.  It is the best writers’ group I’ve ever attended.  We share information and answer each other’s questions in a cooperative environment.  We come to the group loving writing and leave it more excited and inspired.  Our goal as a group is to make software used by writers including Final Draft and Finale as well as websites for writers more accessible for people who use screen-reading software.

I took a detour and wrote this blog to help educate patients, health care professionals, and rehabilitation counselors about the needs of people who are living with low vision.  Reset involves returning to writing as the fun filled income producing and award winning activity that it was before the glaucoma and cataracts were diagnosed.  When I learn how to use social media with the assistance of people who are sighted and have this skill, creative project information will be added to my website, www.susanbourrie.com.

If you are thinking about resetting, consider the following resources:

  1.  Designing your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans  
  2. Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
  3. The Proximity Principle by Ken Coleman (not available yet on BARD)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

It is hard to be a Drama Queen when I keep being Upstaged


I am recovering from an outpatient surgical procedure. No, not cataract surgery because my life has more detours than the Michigan Department of Transportation. Setting up medical procedures has been difficult because my support system of family and friends has disappeared due to perfectly reasonable excuses such as death, job relocations, major medical problems, family responsibilities, and acts of God (ice storms that close airports or land doctor’s cars in ditches).

I would have enjoyed a brief pity party, but…. On what has become a “normal” day, the man I’ve hired to drive and read for me for several years, looked over the steering wheel and out the window while casually telling me that he had emergency surgery to remove a tumor from his spine, had been in the hospital for a few days, and would start chemotherapy. I was in shock and uncharacteristically speechless. A few days later, I tactfully called to ask what days he would be available to work for me. I expected him to say that he would not be available. Instead, this career Marine who is now in his late 80s told me the days he would be able to work for the next four months.

This man inspired me to move forward with the removal of a polyp in the uterus that was discovered after I read a Talking Book from the NLS Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped about gastrointestinal problems. I’ve had every possible GI test over the past three years and worked with two nutritionist to try to find anything that was causing symptoms. The book I read in desperation said that female problems can mimic GI problems. After menopause, doctors schedule regular, yearly mammograms but often tell women that they don’t need gynecological exams. WRONG! Yearly exams are still needed according to my wonderful gynecologist and surgeon. Her nurse also gave me a diet used by women who have morning sickness (soft and bland) since my body was having the same mild symptoms that it did when I was pregnant more than 40 years ago.

My driver was not available for this procedure, but I found a volunteer at my church, a woman in her mid-70s who would go with me to the procedure, take me to her condo to rest, and keep me overnight if that were necessary. Things were going well until the morning of the procedure. I couldn’t find my shoes. When I located them, I bent down and whacked my head with the handle of my briefcase on wheels. My helper experienced last minute surprises before leaving home too. We were now both on high alert—and needed to be.

As I was surrounded by medical professionals ready to take me to surgery, my helper got a call from her daughter who had gone to Urgent Care because she was not feeling right. Urgent Care said her blood pressure was excessively high and had her drive to the Emergency room. I immediately asked for a chaplain or someone who could stay with me while my helper went to the ER. Knowing how long it can take to get admitted to ER and that my procedure would have to be canceled if she did not stay, my helper decided that my procedure should continue on schedule.

I loved being under anesthesia. I was not eager to wake up and face whatever new surprises were waiting in the wings, but I was not overmedicated and learned quickly that my helper’s daughter was scheduled for brain scans. A few hours later as we tried to relax and watch a movie, her daughter called to say that a cyst was found, more tests would be done, and surgery would be performed that day. My helper dropped me off at home on her way to the medical center where successful surgery was performed later in the week.

After several days that seemed to have many more hours than just 24, test results indicated that the polyp and other tissue that were removed were benign. One of my favorite writers, Nora Ephron who wrote Heartburn and the script for My Blue Heaven, was reported to have died of complications from ovarian cancer. This disease is often fatal by the time it is diagnosed. Nora Ephron did not save my life, but her medical history made me pursue the possible causes of my GI symptoms aggressively after I read the Talking Book about GI diseases and their causes. I encourage anyone who is using Talking Books to become an active participant in their help care by doing subject searches of any medical concerns they have. There are also plenty of books on self-help, wellness, nutrition, exercise, aging, retirement, finances, and government policies. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell from Michigan who found hiring caregivers for her husband, the late Congressman John Dingell difficult has now made the needs of patients and caregivers a major priority and is an advocate for change.

I have always preferred comedy to tragedy and have learned from the best by watching the Nora Ephron interview at Drexel University on YouTube and by reading her commencement address at Wellesley. The Most of Nora Ephron is available from the NLS LBPH for anyone who believes as I do that laughter is the best medicine while living with low vision.